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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   J7j
the gates, somebody had thrown a coat over her shoul-
ders, but as she walked the coat slipped and fell to the
ground, and the men marching behind her opened ranks
to avoid trampling upon it.
"Who is it, boys?" asked the major.
He too, wanted to raise himself to the window, but
his legs were bound in splints.
The procession passed out of sight. The mournful
strains of the solemn music now came from somewhere
down the river, subdued and distant, softly echoed by
the walls of the houses. The lame woman janitor had
already come out to close the iron gates, but the inmates
of ward forty-two still stood at the window, seeing the
Commissar off on his last journey.
"Can't you tell me who it is? You all seem to have
been turned into blocks of wood!" exclaimed the major
impatiently, still trying to raise himself to the window.
At last Kukushkin answered in a dry, cracked voice:
"It's the funeral of a real man ... a Bolshevik."
The expression: "a real man", sank into Meresyev's
mind. A better description could not have been imagined.
And Alexei was filled with a desire to become a real man,
like the one who had just been taken on his last journey.
12
With the death of the Commissar, the whole life of
ward forty-two changed.
There was no one to dispel with a kindly word the
gloomy silence that sometimes envelops a hospital ward,
when everybody becomes suddenly absorbed in his mel-
ancholy reflections and everybody's heart is heavy. There
was nobody to draw Gvozdev out of his dejection with
a merry quip, nobody to give Meresyev advice, nobody
to curb Kukushkin's grousing with a witty but inoffensive
remark. The magnet that drew all these different char-
acters together and welded them into one, was gone.
But this was not needed so much now. Medical treat-
ment and time had done their work. All the patients
were rapidly recovering, and the nearer they drew to the
time of their discharge the less they spoke about their
infirmities. They dreamed of what awaited them outside